Footage of Monroe's funeral on YouTube: Abbott says he's the left-front pallbearer as the coffin's being taken from the Westwood chapel
Regular readers of this blog know that the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe is not normally something I would write about or comment on, but it's not every day one of the film legend's pallbearers calls you out of the blue to tell you about how he once held Monroe's corpse in his hands and managed to snag a lock of the dead woman's hair.
That's what happened a couple of days ago when Allan Abbott phoned me to let me know that he'd finally finished his memoir about his days in the funeral industry, when the company he co-founded Abbott & Hast was the premier funeral support company in Southern California.
Why did he call me? Well, a couple of years back, I was doing some research for a story and ended up speaking to Abbott via phone. After regaling me with stories of his participation in the funerals of such stars as Natalie Wood, Karen Carpenter, and Clark Gable, to name a few, he mentioned that he was working on his memoir Pardon My Hearse, and would let me know when he finished it.
True to his word, the 74 year-old Abbott, who now lives in Monterey, California, left me a voice message last week, alerting me that he had finished his book and was shopping around for a publisher.
Naturally, the 50th anniversary of Monroe's death came up as we chatted, and he told me the morbid but fascinating tale of how he came into direct contact with Monroe's lifeless body, which he also helped dress.
"Clarence Pierce, one of the owners [of what's now Pierce Brothers Westwood Village Memorial Park and Mortuary] called me and asked, `Can you get out to our Westwood facility as fast as you can and do whatever needs to be done to get things going on Marilyn's service? '" Abbott recalled.
"Well, I can do everything, but I'm not an embalmer," Abbott said to Pierce.
Pierce told Abbott not to worry, that he was sending a mortician to deal with Monroe's body, as it was in very bad shape due to the extensive autopsy done by the Los Angeles County Coroner, following Monroe's death on August 5, 1962, supposedly from a drug overdose.
"You would not recognize her," Abbott related of what he saw. "She looked so ghastly horrible. It was unbelievable."
By the time he arrived, the facility was already mobbed with reporters and fans of the dead sex symbol. Abbott quickly took charge of the situation, calling the Pinkerton detective agency to provide a squad of armed, uniformed guards for the ceremony.
As his company provided limousines, hearses, flowers and a variety of other services to mortuaries in Los Angeles, Abbott was used to celebrity funerals. He possesses a near-photographic memory, which was enhanced that day by his Russian-born bride, a Marilyn fan, who ordered him to be a walking tape recorder and camera so he could relay all of the details to her.
These details become particularly gruesome when he relates how he came to own a lock of Monroe's hair.